On Saturday, around 8:15AM, Ian, our team leader Luis, Maria Clara, and I left the department of Santo Tomas. I was so excited with the idea of being in Nebaj and starting my apprenticeship in education with youth at the community center in “La Pista,” a little town a few minutes outside of Nebaj.
The road to Nebaj was an adventure that added enthusiasm to the headache of the curvy roads. The first main city we went through is called “Chimaltenango” and for about 20 minutes we saw nothing but small businesses that repair cars. Apparently, years ago many people drove to the United States and bought cars damaged in accidents in order to repair and sell them in Guatemala. Nowadays there are more regulations to cross the border into the United States and people don’t do it as much.
Personally, I think having so many small businesses that offer the same service in the same area leaves very little room for development.
As we drove further northwest, we crossed another main city call “Chichicastenango” which is an area were tourism has become big. Then we cross “Quiche” and it seemed very similar to Santo Tomas in terms of development and a lot of little shops where I found the best chips ever called “Tortrix.” The houses, like in Santo Tomas, were mainly made of bricks and iron. In Quiche, everyone had gathered in excited groups waiting for a big bicycle race to pass, in which athletes from many countries in South America and neighbors of Guatemala were competing. My heart started to dance when I saw a Venezuela jersey there since I am Venezuelan.
The last small town we went through was call “Chajul.” Chajul is part of what they call the Ixil Triangle along with Nebaj and Coxal because they all form a triangle. Ixil is a Mayan language spoken in the Ixil Triangle and I would feel a huge sense of accomplishment if I am able to learn it.
I was not surprised to find that the cities we drove through were very similar to Santo Tomas, and simultaneously very different than Antigua. Antigua is a very fancy, heavily touristy, area where most of the buildings are large Spanish colonial homes.
Around 1:30PM we arrived in Nebaj with our homestay families and immediately left to have lunch at a restaurant called “El Descanso.” El Descanso is a restaurant owned by the Nebaj leader of “Soluciones Comunitarias,” our partner in Guatemala.
After a really good lunch we went on a little tour of Nebaj. We went to the Central Park which is considered the center of the city. Then we went to the market which I thought was louder than the market in Antigua. There was Reggae-tone everywhere! Reggae-tone is like hip-pop in the US and usually is listened to by teenagers. One of the differences between Nebaj and Santo Tomas is that the women in Nebaj always wear their traditional traje (dress), which consists of a long red skirt with either high heals and a regular t-shirt or flat sandals and a huipil (their traditional t-shirt with detailed hand stitched designs.
At night when I went back with my homestay family, they were really welcoming and happy to have me there. I love my room, which is very cozy and warm and painted yellow. Even though Nebaj is different in terms of region, the people are still very gentle, welcoming, and very much family oriented. About 12 people live in my house, including wives, husbands, and children. The house is huge and we have about 5 or 6 rooms. Many times I wonder whether or not having so many people living in a house contributes to poverty and lack of development. With this in mind, we also have a little shop in our house where we sell kites, traditional clothes, and jewelry. Besides this, they also have another little shop where they sell American clothes from Guatemala city. This also makes me wonder if having more workers within the family is actually better since they have more input and team effort.